ACHTUNG: This is not a “fair and balanced” story. It is an editorial by the editor.
The Dorr Township Board Thursday night went into a closed session for about a half hour and provided virtually no information when coming back into open session at about 10:15 p.m.
The Open Meetings Act indeed permits public officials not to comment on closed session proceedings if no decision about deliberations is reached. However, there are only specific instances in which closed meetings can be held. The following is taken from the Michigan State University Extension:
- Personnel matters, if requested by the individual, and the individual may rescind the request at any time, but cannot then request to go back into closed session.
- Student discipline, if requested by the student, or their parent or guardian, with the same one time restriction as #1.
- Collective bargaining negotiations, if requested by either party.
- Purchase or lease of real estate up until the time an option to purchase or lease is obtained. (2/3)
- Attorney consultation on specific pending litigation. (2/3)
- Review of applications for employment or appointment, if the candidate requests confidentiality.
Dorr Township Trustee Terri Rios at the beginning of the public meeting requested the closed session, indicating it was to be about an employee (personnel). However, when the board came back into open session, Supervisor Jeff Miling was asked which of the three Dorr Township employees was being talked about.
The supervisor replied that the meeting was not actually about an employee, it was about a misunderstanding.
Therefore, the purpose of the closed session is brought into question. If the session was not about an employee, then none of the criteria for having a closed session has been met. If that’s true, the meeting was called illegally.
Miling was told by Townbroadcast that the public would be upset with the lack of transparency by the board and he replied, “That’s a chance we’ll have to take.”
After recent revelations that Trustee John Tuinstra last week secretly audio taped a Planning Commission meeting, perhaps violating the state’s eavesdropping law, this move by the board comes at an inopportune time. Tuinstra has insisted he has the right to tape public meetings, but left his tape recorder on top of the defibrillator station on the wall in the meeting room and left it running after the Plan Commission had adjourned.
So Tuinstra picked up private conversations that were not conducted in public meetings and the “victims,” Chairman Bob Wagner, Larry Dolegowski and Vice Chairman Bob Traxler, very well could insist their rights were violated.
Furthermore, Tuinstra’s actions are believed by some (including me) to have been prompted by Rios’ attempts to catch Wagner and Plan Commissioners illegally discussing public business in private, that is after the meeting is adjourned. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Rios, Tuinstra and Clerk Debbie Sewers want Wagner gone.
Dorr Township for more than seven years has been plagued by political intrigue that smacks of bad government, and perhaps now even criminal behavior. At best it smacks of lack of transparency and the appearance of impropriety.
The Dorr Township Board must find a way to eliminate the manufactured strife and be more open and honest in dealing with the public it serves. It did an exceptionally poor job of that this week.
“How low can you go?” — Chubby Checker, 1963, “The Limbo Rock.”